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Pass the Plate

Since last December, the American Culinary Federation of Cape Cod has been donating their monthly raffle to Cape Kids Meals, a program that sends food insecure children home from school with food for the weekend. Here, the group raised over $5,000 for the cause.

The American Culinary Federation of Cape Cod stepped up to lend a hand, and serve some food, when it was needed most.

Home to some of New England’s freshest cuisine, Cape Cod is a culinary sensation. Without the professionalism, commitment, and talent of the chefs behind the scenes, this peninsula would not be the bustling haven it is today. In 2017, four chefs banded together to revitalize a defunct local chef’s association, the American Culinary Federation of Cape Cod (ACF). Today, the chapter represents more than 200 restaurants, individuals, and industry professionals across the region. 

In 1929, the American Culinary Federation was established to unite professionals in the culinary industry. With over 150 chapters nationwide and 17,500 members, the ACF continues to keep individuals involved and connected. The Cape & Islands chapter is currently the strongest in the country, representing well over 200 restaurants, individuals, and industry professionals. As president of the chapter and executive chef at the Wianno Club in Osterville, Mike Pillarella is passionate about expanding memberships through a grassroots effort. “Our strategy has been very simple: to bring a friend, bring a colleague,” he comments.

On the Cape, Islands and the South Shore, the ACF’s mission is to enrich the personal and professional growth of the local chef community, welcoming individuals to expand their network. Each monthly meeting rotates to a different restaurant venue from September through May. The diverse selection of sites ranges from high-end country clubs, like The Wianno Club, to breweries, like Cape Cod Beer. “It’s very exciting for our members because you get a behind the scenes look at these restaurants. We use it as an educational component to see what these chefs and their teams are doing. What is fabulous is that these chefs really put their heart and soul into showing off their location,” Pillarella comments. 

The ACF hosts member events at various venues throughout the year as well as fundraising events for local charitable causes.

While the focus is to enhance their professional network, the ACF works just as hard to give back to the community. The chapter firmly believes in the power of education to transport members to the next level. At the close of each year, scholarships are presented to individuals seeking to further their education. The group also holds a raffle for charitable causes at each meeting. Since last December, each raffle goes to Cape Kid Meals. “The program that Cape Kid Meals puts on is $180 to buy a backpack for a food insecure child for a year. That backpack goes home every Friday with food to sustain them for the weekend. That became our mission: to buy at least one backpack for every meeting. Our last meeting, I think we donated close to $4,200 to Cape Kid Meals,” Pillarella notes.

Come March, COVID-19 hit the restaurant community hard, forcing these beloved spots to indefinitely close their doors. The ACF saw this as a time to step up in full force to support the community, forming a separate nonprofit, the Cape Cod Family Table Collaborative, to serve the food insecure. “The Cape Kid Meals acted as a springboard for us to develop the Family Table Collaborative, a nonprofit that the ACF started along with the Faith Family Kitchen and the Cape Cod Culinary Incubator. It was designed to help facilitate the needs of the food insecure, with the major focus being on the culinary and hospitality community that was hit so hard by COVID. Then, it morphed into ‘let’s just feed whoever needs meals.’ You don’t need to meet any income requirements; it’s based on a good faith factor that if you show up, we will provide you a meal. At this point, we have served over 15,000 meals,” Pillarella comments. 

The three organizations involved had a vision to start a collaborative whose model could be replicated anywhere across the country: band together chefs with an operation that is not doing business, get finances and volunteers, and the group is able to produce food. Two major players in the operation were the commercial arm of Dan Delancey’s Lobster Trap, providing refrigerated trucks and aiding with logistics, and Guaranteed Fresh Produce of Hyannis, providing trucks twice weekly. 

Delancey, executive chef at The Lobster Trap and membership chair of the ACF, is central to the Family Table Collaborative. Pillarella commends the ACF’s board of directors for their work throughout the process. “Those are the people who were boots on the ground, driving trucks, loading food, cooking, making it happen. Without these individual efforts, nothing is going to happen. It is a collection of small, individual efforts that really put this together,” Pillarella says.

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